31 Jan 2022
Social media influencer, Molly-Mae Hague caused low-level controversy recently with her statement – evidently designed to be motivational – that “Beyonce has the same 24 hours in a day that we do”. My hot take is that she should really have used Sheridan Smith, a national treasure who is seemingly able to act and shape-shift (and age-shift) in umpteen productions a year.
This week, we find her on Channel 5 – yes, it still broadcasts – buried among their more regular fare of World’s Greatest X and Britain’s Deadliest Y. This is something of a departure for Channel 5, with high production values and a level of drama that ITV should/will aspire to.
We first find Smith’s grammar school English teacher, Jenna Garvey hungover, in bed with a face-down stranger. She creeps out, doing the ‘walk of shame’ (except she uses a taxi) and heads to work. When she arrives, it’s to immediately apologise to the headteacher and Deputy Suckup for her lateness, despite arriving at the same time as the kids.
From that point, every teacher in the audience – me included – turns their judgy dial up to 10. Watching a TV drama *with* teachers *about* teachers is akin to a live inspection. “They’d never get away with that!”, “That’s not even on the syllabus!” and the trump-all “SAFEGUARDING!”, which automatically wins any game of Teacher Gogglebox Bingo. What we always seem to forget is that we are watching DRAMA, and what we are seeing should be DRAMATIC. Yes, Garvey doesn’t have to queue for the staffroom microwave like we have to every day, but that would be three minutes of incredibly dull TV.
However, it is precisely this kind of interaction The teacher is banking on. In this house, we call if screen-screaming. At every opportunity, we are actively encouraged to judge her, from the one-night stand onwards and right through to the relationships she has with her students. It is flirty. It is inappropriate. And it will make everyone who works in a school really itchy under the lanyard.
But then if it wasn’t making everyone – teacher or not – squirm in their armchairs, it wouldn’t be doing its job. It wants us all to fall into the ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ fallacy, and it does it very cleverly indeed. By the time an allegation is made that she has slept with a student, we are already fully invested in watching her unpack the night before. It’s a dangerous path, especially since we absolutely know that one thing does not guarantee another, but we are along for the ride.
I particularly like dramas like this, but there’s always the risk that it will descend into a messy tangle of events that gets unpicked in a too-short denouement a la Scooby-Doo. “And I’d have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you pesky kids!” It’s hard to tell from a pilot episode, but somehow I didn’t get the sense this will be the case here. We are more likely to experience the remaining three episodes like a roller-coaster of judginess, with Garvey’s guilt oscillating in our minds as each reveal tells us more about that night.
We’ve all had moments we regret, situations we found ourselves in, and unfounded allegations against teachers are sadly not uncommon. But whatever the programme tells us, it’s Sheridan Smith, the woman who broke up with James Corden, so we know that ultimately she’s going to be exonerated, God bless her.
So for episode two, instead of pointing out all the HUGE leaps the production makes in the Teacher Cinematic Universe, settle in and enjoy some properly edgy drama. Nerds.
Alternatively, record yourself waiting for the staffroom microwave for three minutes discussing last night’s telly and pitch it to Channel 5. Pedagogglebox. There’s probably a market for it.
After all, you have the same number of hours in a day as Sheridan Smith. So what’s stopping you?